We’ve written quite a bit lately about identifying core values in your content.
Creating content around a positive value like integrity, fairness, humility, or faith will attract an audience that shares those values — and that fosters a powerful sense of unity.
But our friend negativity bias tells us that the flip side of that will probably be more compelling. In other words, talking about the things that bug you will build an even faster bond with your audience.
For today’s post, I asked our editorial team to let us know their peeves — the things that irritate, bother, and annoy them.
I’m going to try to tease those out and figure out the values behind them — and see what that might say about who we are as a company and a community.
So let’s get peevy.
Stefanie Flaxman’s peeve
Stefanie is our editor-in-chief, and as you’d expect, she has a healthy list of grammar and usage peeves.
But an editor is much more than a proofreader. It’s one thing to misplace a comma — it’s another to come at a post in a fundamentally flawed way. Here’s Stefanie’s peeve:
Hype/extremes/absolutes: Writing voices that are heavy on absolutes tend to simultaneously lack substance and speak to the reader as if they know what’s best for them … which isn’t a combination that builds credibility.
For example, earnestly referring to any flesh-and-blood human being as a “guru” is typically too vague or a sign of hype. If the person is an expert, top scholar, or highly respected professional, use those labels instead — they’re more specific.
What it reveals
Putting this post together reminded me that an Allergy to Hype has always been at the core of Copyblogger’s message. Since Brian founded the blog in 2008, Copyblogger has always stood in contrast to the hype-slingers who substitute flash for value. We believe that substance matters.
Robert Bruce’s peeve
Ten-dollar words: This is an old one, but a good one, and for good reason. Most writers have moderate-to-severe mental problems. I am, obviously, no psychologist, but the attempt to unnecessarily project one’s “intelligence” through the use of big words — when plain words can do the job — seems to be clear evidence of this.
What it reveals
Besides the obvious fact that Robert wins a lifetime “get off my lawn” achievement award, I think this shows how passionate we are about Quality. Quality of information, quality of business practices, quality of writing.
Loryn Thompson’s peeve
You’ve only seen Loryn on the blog once (so far), but she’s crucial to our editorial success. She’s the data analyst who looks at the numbers behind what we’re writing, and helps us to get our message out more effectively.
Here’s Loryn’s peeve:
Using “over” with numbers (instead of “more than”) : As Rainmaker Digital’s data analyst, this one comes up for me a lot. Every time I catch myself writing “over 5%…” in a report, I go back and change it to “more than.”
Now, the Associated Press said in 2014 that both “over” and “more than” are acceptable to use with numeric comparisons — as in, “There were over two hundred people at the event.” But you know what? It still bugs the crap out of me.
In my mind, “over” mixes the abstract world with the physical realm. For example, if you were to say, “We flew over 6,000 miles …” you could be saying that you flew more than 6,000 miles. Or, you might mean that you were literally above the earth for 6,000 miles.
What it reveals
I picked this one precisely because the team doesn’t agree on it. Some of us are “more than” folks (me, Loryn) and some aren’t. Stefanie tries to remain agnostic.
While it can be fun to give in to that eye twitch when someone makes a style choice we don’t like, I think it’s smart to keep some perspective. There are usually good arguments to be made for different usage choices, so I’ll go with Diversity as a value for this one.
My take is that it’s more important to be thoughtful about your choices than it is to be didactic. Although alot is never going to be a word and you can’t make it one.
Jerod Morris’s peeve
Jerod’s a person with a strong moral compass, and I was interested to see his peeves. Here’s the one I chose from his:
Misspellings of names: It’s especially bad when the name is a common one that’s misspelled in an obvious way. But any name misspelling shows a lack of basic respect for the subject you’re writing about. It’s not really grammar, but it still makes me cringe. Find out for sure.
What it reveals
Misspelling a name in content is a classic example in failure of what Jerod calls Primility (the intersection between pride and humility). It’s both sloppy (lack of pride) and disrespectful (lack of humility). I think it’s fair to say that Primility is a core value for Jerod, and that’s probably one of the reasons he’s been such a great asset to our company.
We are, make no mistake, proud of the work we do at Copyblogger. We love producing the blog, and we try hard to make it excellent. But we know that humility’s important, too. We’re under no illusion that this blog is perfect, and we try to challenge each other to always make it more relevant, more useful, and more interesting.
Sonia Simone’s peeve
You may feel like you already know more than you need to about my peeves. For today, I revisited a favorite:
Boring content: This one just makes me sad … seeing site after site after site that utterly fails to stand out in any way.
When I see a site with a genuine, passionate voice — even if there are a few usage errors — I may cringe a little, but mostly I cheer. I’d much rather see a site with plenty of G.A.S. than a grammatically perfect one that has no soul.
What it reveals
Individuality is absolutely a core value at Copyblogger. We’ve never endorsed the paint-by-numbers approach to marketing and online business … partly because that would be very boring, and mostly because it just doesn’t work.
And then there’s the Oxford comma
If you aren’t familiar with the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma), it’s that final comma in a collection of items in a sentence.
Here’s a visually amusing example of the same sentence with and without one.
I like the Oxford comma because it’s always clear. Jerod gets downright fierce about his support. That renegade Loryn, though, has come to prefer dropping it.
“I used to be a staunch Oxford Comma advocate, but now I prefer the way short lists flow without it.” – That Renegade Loryn
Either is correct, but do be consistent. (Although the late Bill Walsh, noted Washington Post usage stickler, advises that if a serial comma is important for clarity, go ahead and put one in there, even if it’s not your usual style.)
A note about peeves and unity
I mentioned when we started that talking about the negatives will build a connection with your audience more quickly — and it will. But keep in mind that a steady diet of negativity will give almost anyone indigestion.
Don’t shy away from talking about the good stuff, too. An honest values system includes both positive and negative points of view.
How about you?
What sets your teeth on edge when you see it in a blog post or hear it in a podcast? What do you think that says about you and your values?
Let us know in the comments!
Reader Comments (21)
Devang Vasani says
I always refrain from using the Oxford Comma. it has always bugged me as if it is an extra piece of art kept to showcase the article is written by a Grammar Nazi who is trying to prove his point with punctuations and not content. That is my peeve.
Sonia Simone says
Ha! That is a fine peeve, thank you.
Stephanie McIntyre says
Something that really bothers me is sloppy speech. When someone uses “every” for “ever’ as in “Every since he moved, his cat has been lonely”. When clearly it’s “Ever since…..”.
I believe that this peeve shows that I’m not comfortable with the general lack of quality that is a part of our culture.
Sonia Simone says
My eye is twitching again. Thank you.
Jane Rucker says
I really enjoyed this post! It is all so true. As a longtime editor of book manuscripts, I can relate to all of these. Another one that gets to me is when a writer will cram several paragraphs into one huge one. Run-on sentences get next to me as well! Great post! Thanks again!
Sonia Simone says
Are people under the impression that line breaks cost extra? They are free, people, free!
Thanks Jane. 🙂
My pet peeve is when an ad or headline doesn’t deliver on the promise in any way. I just read one that was close to, “A one-minute mindfulness technique to stop being lazy.” I read the article and at the top, there was another promise, that the article was a two-minute article.
It took about four minutes to read and I’m a moderate to fast reader. And the mindfulness exercise? There was none. There wasn’t even an exercise in the article or anything that could even be adapted to be one.
Anthony Galasso says
It’s amazing to me how often I see writing that misuses Lose and Loose. File that peeve under Common Sense.
Besides the obvious ones (using “less” when “few” is proper, failing to differentiate between homonyms, properly using the apostrophe with its and it’s), there are a number of somewhat more subtle ones that bug me. For instance, I have a boss whose reports I edit who persists in writing things along this line: “This patient has been with me during the last ten years” instead of “this patient has been with me *for* the last ten years”. The expression “centered around” bothers me. How does one “center around” a thing?
Rupesh Kumar says
My pet peeve is the usage of semicolon ( ; ). I often get bugged by people using semi-colon just for the sake of it. I would suggest not to use a semicolon if you have no idea.
Bob Yearick says
Oh, where to begin? OK, how about this: I have seen even learned women write about a female as a “women.” Unbelievable. Do they refer to individual males as “men”? Not likely. Also, pronouncing lackadaisical as laxadaisical.
Grant Byington says
Utilize. ‘Nuff said.
John DeBruicker says
Anne Janzer says
A personal peeve is using it’s instead of its (and the opposite). It sets my teeth on edge because it’s so common. The only thing that bothers me more is when I find that I’ve done it myself when drafting!
Augie De Blieck Jr. says
My biggest pet peeve lately is the phrase “at the intersection of” and variants of the same. I blame Steve Jobs for popularizing this one. It was a clever turn of phrase once. Now it’s a cliche.
Second pet peeve: People who don’t use the Oxford Comma. =)
Gotta be honest, I skimmed this entire article for the basic peeves (listicle-style), skipping the commentary almost entirely – except for the G-A-S bit, which suckered me in. I’m assuming that was the whole point anyway, lol…
Joe Moore says
Overuse of the word “eponymous” in Wikipedia articles, and in general, imitative writing, “price point” instead of “price,” and the worst of all, “that being said.”
Barry Desautels says
“learnt” and “gotten”. Not words in my version of English.
Drives me nuts when I see them used in a serious post or article.
Ashwani Kumar Singh says
My biggest pet peeve is using ‘Now’, ‘also’ at the beginning of every sentence of an article. I don’t like it. But I am myself doing it most of the times. Although I am trying not to do it, but still end up doing so every now and then.
John DeBruicker says
When people say “prior to” instead of “before.” Dave Eggers has a whole essay dedicated to this. Prior is (or originally was) an adjective, not an adverb. It’s needlessly pretentious to say “prior to” instead of just saying “before.”
I am with Loryn here! There is nothing more annoying that people using “over” to precede a number within copy.
Great job, Sonia. I really enjoyed this.
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